DecksDirect, a Pure Retailer, Thrives

Industry pundits might say the future of retail is brands, manufacturers, and marketplaces. But do not tell that to Blair Budlong. His firm, DecksDirect, does not have a brand, manufacture a product, or sell on marketplaces. And it thrives.

“We are a pure merchant,” Budlong told me. “We do not make any products. We buy from manufacturers and brands. The majority of the products we market you can get someplace else.”

DecksDirect targets folks who wish to construct a deck. It gives plans, materials, and experience to complete the job. Since its founding 12 years ago, the business has grown to an eight-figure (earnings ) business, with designs to become even larger.

I talked with Budlong lately about the provider’s launch, operations, and hiring methods, among other subjects. What follows is our whole audio conversation and a transcript, which can be edited for clarity and length.

Let us see our merchandise:

Eric Bandholz: When did you start DecksDirect?

Blair Budlong: About 12 years back.

Bandholz: You are killing it. Eight figure firm all online, right?

Budlong: Well, 99-percent online, throughout our own site. We’ve got a few regional customers.

Bandholz: Give us a rundown of the Organization.

Budlong: We are a pure retailer. We do not make any products. We buy from manufacturers and brands. The majority of the products we market you can get someplace else — via a lumberyard or a Home Depot. We’ve built a company which focuses on the higher end of architectural finishes. You may look at a backyard deck and say,”Hey, that is super cool.” We sell the products which make it super cool.

We don’t sell timber and commodity type materials. We do not get into foundations. We sell mostly higher-end composite decking, metal railings, specialty fasteners, and related items. And we remain exclusively into the deck. We do not get into landscaping, or lighting, or home wraps, as examples. Everything we do is focused on deck building.

So we bring in goods and redistribute them. Our expression is,”Help people build better decks.”

Bandholz: How did you locate this chance?

Budlong: I had been in the industry before. I came out of school with an architectural level. I worked in design for a short time. After a couple of years, I started working in a family business that manufactured and marketed a product linked to deck building, largely through Home Depot and Lowe’s. So my two chief customers were those shops. The item was a concrete pier block named Deck Block.

And during that, I had a whole lot of contact and communication with end consumers. Our advertising strategy was to skip the shops and provide support and information directly to customers, who would purchase it through the shops.

That product and company were finally going away on account of the patent expiring. So the natural transition for me was to start DecksDirect using a whole lot of products that you can not find in big box stores.

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I enjoy working directly with homeowners. And so I began DecksDirect. I didn’t have a huge business program. It was just another man and me putting together a Magento shop that was free at the moment.

Our aim with DecksDirect was to get into Home Depot and Lowe’s stores with our marketing material to induce customers to our site. From there, we would give away free deck plans. We’d free technical support. So homeowners throughout the country would phone in and ask,”Hey, how do I build this deck?” Or,”What stuff should I be using?” Or,”Can you recommend something?”

Bandholz: so that you sell directly to homeowners?

Budlong: Yes. We have three types of customers: the do-it-yourselfer, the do it for me, and the general contractor, like a remodeler who might build a few decks annually.

Bandholz: Can you expand on how you attract clients?

Budlong: We do a lot of advertising. We typically do not promote to somebody that’s considering a deck. We target folks who’ve decided to construct a deck. We do a little content promotion, and we spend a reasonable amount on search engine optimization. We do not have a YouTube channel such as Beardbrand. We are more about the aesthetics and the how-to.

Bandholz: How has Covid affected DecksDirect?

Budlong: We have developed a lot during the pandemic. That is the best way to explain it. A good deal of people throughout the country are working at home and looking outside. So we had a good deal of volume last year. It was difficult to catch up, to keep workers safe. Hiring labor this season was very tricky. Our warehouse is in Indianapolis. We have struggled with getting everything out the door.

Bandholz: Your Organization is located in Minnesota. When did you move your warehouse to Indianapolis?

Budlong: About a couple of decades back. We outgrew our warehouse in Minnesota. We looked at a few locations. We opted to be closer to the East Coast, where a huge percentage of the populace is, with a strategy to check at a West Coast facility in a few years. Thus far, moving to Indy has been a terrific decision. Our administrative offices stay in Minnesota.

Bandholz: What is your vision for the company for the next five, 10 years?

Budlong: We want to be big. We’ve got 800-pound gorillas in our industry: Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Menards. We are not going to catch them in five decades. But our aim is to be number four behind these big three — the fourth largest decking trader in the nation.

It’s a massive market. Every house in America and Canada is a potential customer. Our merchandise typically lasts from 10 to 20 years. So they deteriorate and require replacement. And most folks with a deck will replace it taking it down and throwing it away. So we have repeat clients.

Bandholz: You and I met several years ago. You told me,”I really like our ERP.” How can that happen?

Budlong: We are on NetSuite, and I like it. Does it have problems and flaws? Absolutely. But I really like that it ties into our financialsour stock, our human resources performance. We can see everything that is happening. And now that we’ve got years of data and information, we make better choices.

We use NetSuite as our principal repository of data and information. Everything goes in and out of it. Again, I really like it. It has been invaluable during the pandemic.

But we still use Magento for ecommerce. Again, we have used it since the very first day. It works really well for us.

Bandholz: How have you assembled your team? You need to have a data person, an analytics individual, and warehouse direction. Then there’s advertising. What is your strategy for hiring?

Budlong: We’re sales focused. So our biggest department, outside of warehousing, is our sales staff. They are handling phone calls, working with clients. I try to maintain our sales staff happy. Nothing happens without a sale.

We’ve got an operations team that is responsible for purchasing and stock management. We’ve got a marketing group, but we outsource ad-network and pay-per-click administration. We do photography and a little bit of video internally. We do plenty of our articles internally. And then we have got a finance division.

Bandholz: How’s it been to find knowledgeable sales and talent staff?

Budlong: Not too bad. Our focus since day one has been helping clients. So bringing people in, getting them educated on the goods, and then letting them loose. Hire the right people, and they figure out how to make it work.

We are pretty good at hiring sales and customer service people that could fit in and help clients. And our clients are happy. It makes for a fantastic culture.

Bandholz: I am a former salesperson. Do you search for someone knowledgeable about the business, or do you concentrate on sales ability?

Budlong: We concentrate on people and sales skills. I don’t think we have ever hired a salesperson who had building-material or building experience. We need folks who can assist customers.

But whether it is sales staff or other departments, we are searching for people that hit our five core values. After that, we start diving into how they may perform.

I was a terrible hirer. I did terrible interviews. I didn’t know how to evaluate individuals. Somebody tipped me off to the publication”Traction.” Initially, I thought it was gimmicky and seemed like corporate things. But when we put together our five values, they have stuck.

They are:”Do the Right Thing,””Service the Customer First,””It All Begins with Self,””Deliver Excellence Daily,” and”Maintain an Edge over the Rest.”

So the first thing we do in an interview is to assess the candidate against these values.

Bandholz: How can our listeners accompany you and your organization?

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